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Definitions for the Different Types of Bedding
Know the difference between pillows, linens, and blanket types
Written by Kimberly Sayers BartoschUpdated 11/05/19
There’s a reason why the bedding section in the department store is so large: there are dozens of different types of pillows, sheets, and bed coverings. Not only are there different types of items, but they come in all different colors, prints, and sizes. It can be a bit confusing learning all of these different terms, but knowing the definitions will help you when you are shopping and need to find the right item for your bed. Whether it’s linens, bed coverings, pillows or the insert you use with a duvet cover, knowing these terms will help you create the perfect bed.
Bed Linen Types
- Top sheet or flat sheet: Commonly used in North America, but uncommon in Europe, a top sheet (also known as a flat sheet), is the sheet that separates you from your comforter, blanket, or quilt. In Europe (and very slowly catching on in the United States), the duvet cover takes the place of the top sheet.
- Bottom sheet or fitted sheet: A bottom sheet, or fitted sheet, is the sheet with the elastic edge that fits over your mattress—hence the name “bottom” or “fitted” sheet. As today’s mattresses have grown much thicker, it’s important to check the measurements before buying a fitted sheet to make sure it will stretch all the way over your mattress.
- Bedspread: A bedspread is a thin, decorative covering that normally covers the entire bed and touches the floor. Cotton, chenille, wool, or polyester are common bedspread materials.
- Coverlet: A coverlet is a decorative fabric covering that does not touch the floor and normally does not cover the pillows. Woven coverlets and quilts fall into this category. These are normally bed accents and they can sit on top of bedspreads. If you think of hotel room bedding, these can also be found at the foot of the bed used like foot runners.
- Blanket: Blankets are used to add warmth. While some people use a blanket on its own, others may prefer to top the blanket with a more attractive quilt, comforter, or duvet. Blankets are most commonly made of wool, cotton, polyester, microfiber plush, or a blend of fibers.
- Comforter: A comforter is a bed cover stuffed with fibers or down for warmth and then sewn together on all four sides. Probably the most common bed topper in North America, comforters are available in a nearly endless range of colors, patterns, and styles and are a major decorative accent in the bedroom. Most are made of either cotton or polyester.
- Duvet: A duvet is similar to a comforter except it requires the use of a duvet cover, where a comforter does not. Typically, a duvet is solid white and stuffed with down or a down alternative.
- Duvet cover: A duvet cover encases and protects a duvet. Like an envelope, it has an opening where the comforter or duvet is inserted. Once placed inside, the opening is closed with buttons or occasionally a zipper. Duvet covers are generally very decorative and are available in a wide selection of colors and styles. The duvet cover takes the place of a top sheet in Europe, and some people in the U.S. also use it this way.
- Euro or continental pillow: A Euro or continental pillow—a large square pillow—is a decorative pillow that sits back against the headboard. The cover is removable for washing.
- Sleeping pillow: A sleeping pillow is a rectangular pillow that you lay your head on when sleeping. Sleeping pillows have three sizes—standard, queen, or king—to fit your bed or sleeping habits. There are many styles of sleeping pillows.
- Decorative or throw pillow: A decorative pillow, also referred to as an accent or throw pillow, is a small pillow that comes in many shapes, sizes, and colors to add decoration to a bed.
- Bolster pillow: A bolster pillow is a tubular pillow used for lumbar support while sitting up to read in bed, but more often, it’s used as a decorative pillow or accent pillow. These pillows range from very small to long version that span the entire width of the bed.
- Pillowcase: A pillowcase is used to cover a sleeping pillow and sometimes a decorative or bolster pillow. It’s normally a rectangular shape with an opening on one end where you insert the pillow. It is recommended that you change your pillowcase at least twice per week to protect your facial skin from breakouts or skin irritation.
- Pillow sham: Pillow shams are decorative coverings for pillows, often designed with trims, ruffles, flanges, or cording. Add a couple of pillow shams to your bed for extra style.
Other Bed Accessories
- Bed skirt, dust ruffle, or valence: Most commonly called a bed skirt or bed ruffle, this is a decorative piece of fabric placed between the mattress and box springs. It extends to the floor at the mattress’s sides and bottom. Its main function is to hide the box spring, but bed skirts also add a touch of softness, color, and decor to the room.
- Throw blanket: Smaller than a regular blanket, a throw or toss blanket is used to add extra warmth at the foot of the bed or when wrapped around your shoulders. They are another good way to add a touch of color to your bed.
- Mattress pad: Also called a mattress topper or underpad, this layer of padding is used above the mattress and beneath a bottom sheet to add comfort.
- Featherbed: A featherbed is made of feathers contained within a fabric shell that lies on top of a mattress as a mattress topper. The featherbed will normally have elastic straps or even have a fitted sheet on it so that it fits over a mattress and stays in place.
Basic Parts of Bedding You Need to Know
Create the perfect bed!Save
If you’ve ever wanted to build out a luxurious bed, you’ve got to know the essential parts of bedding. Here are all the elements that go into making your dream bed, from the bottom up.
Parts of Bedding Glossary
The basic parts of bedding include mattress covers, sheets, a quilt, coverlet, duvet cover, or comforter, and pillows. Take a look at all of the different parts of bedding your bed could include, and where they are placed:
In This Guide:
Mattress Covers and Protectors
Protect the most important part of your bed with a mattress cover. It will defend your mattress against allergens, dust, and perspiration. It will also increase the longevity of your mattress by decreasing the amount of cleaning needed. Simply wash the cover instead!Shop Mattress Covers and Protectors
Check out our How to Clean a Mattress guide for more tips.
There are three main sheets to consider when buying bedding: fitted, top, and pillowcases.
Fitted:The fitted sheet is the first layer of bedding. The fitted sheet, complete with an elastic band around the edges, fits snugly on top of your mattress. If you have a mattress protector, it will go on top of that. The elastic prevents the sheet from coming off the bed in the middle of the night. Make sure all the corners are tucked tightly around the mattress when making your bed.Shop Fitted Sheets
Flat: Flat (or top) sheets are the next layer to your bedding. They lie on top of the fitted sheet and have the decorative trim at the head of the bed. When sleeping, pull the flat sheet over you for a light layer of warmth. Tuck the flat sheet into the sides and foot of the bed, leaving the top untucked so it can be folded to make room for the pillows.Shop Flat Sheets
Pillowcases:These sheet coverings are made specifically to protect your pillows from wear and tear. Pillowcases typically match your fitted and flat sheets, but you can switch up your style by choosing a patterned, eye-catching pillowcase. Any bed larger than a twin typically has two pillows, so make sure to buy the proper amount of pillowcases.Shop Pillowcases
Sheet Sets: Get the best value by choosing a complete sheet set: at least one fitted sheet, flat sheet, and pillowcase.Shop Sheet Sets
Stock up on sheets in multiples. The rule of thumb is three sets: one for the bed, one for the linen closet, and one in the laundry. Not only does this ensure you always have a clean set at the ready, but it helps minimize wear.Shop Sheets & Pillowcases
Quilts, Coverlets, Duvets and Comforters
From the heaviest comforter to the lightest coverlet, each bedspread offers a different level of warmth, texture, and coziness. These top layers provide added warmth and style, and can be swapped out with the seasons. There are four main options: quilts, coverlets/bedspreads, duvet covers, and comforters.
Quilts: A quilt is made up of three pieces: a top sheet, inner batting, and a bottom sheet. The stitching is usually visible and made into many designs or patterns. They are perfect for colder months, as they can be paired with a heavier layer like a duvet or comforter.Shop Quilts
Coverlets/Bedspreads: A coverlet is an extra layer of bedding used for decoration or warmth. Since they typically don’t extend far beyond the corners of your bed, coverlets work well in cold climates or seasons as an additional layer atop your comforter or duvet. However,they can also be used as your main bedding option in warm climates or seasons.Shop Coverlets/Bedspreads
Duvet & Duvet Covers: A duvet is made up of two soft, flat pieces of fabric, is typically white in color, and is filled with down or synthetic fibers (also known as down alternative). Duvets are often paired with a cover to keep them clean. You can choose from many colors or patterns or change it up seasonally. Because of the cover, there is also no need for a top sheet.Shop Down Comforters and Duvet InsertsShop Duvet Covers
Comforters: A comforter is a quilted, fluffy blanket that sits on top of your sheets. It is made up of two breathable pieces of fabric and filled with down or synthetic fibers to add warmth. They are typically one of the heaviest parts of bedding.Shop Comforters
Bed-in-a-Bag: Just like you can get a sheet set, a bed-in-a-bag is the easiest way to get a complete bedding set. They will include one bedspread/comforter along with a complete set of sheets. Each set varies, so check the product description to make sure you’re getting all of the essentials!Shop Beds-in-a-BagShop All Bedding
Pillows are the finishing touch to any bed. They also play a crucial role in how soundly you sleep at night, and it’s recommended to replace them every 12 – 18 months as pillow-fill deteriorates and becomes less comfortable. A standard bedding arrangement typically has a combination of bed pillows and throw pillows. Try layering these two types with the largest pillows in the back and the smaller, more decorative ones in the front.
Bed: Bed pillows are the primary pillows you sleep on every night. Any bed larger than a twin typically has two bed pillows, and they can increase in size as your bed does. For example, a king bed should have king bed pillows. You can also personalize your bed pillows to support your sleep type: back, side, or stomach.Shop Bed Pillows
Throw: Decorative pillows (aka accent or throw pillows) are a quick yet impactful finishing touch. Add a dash of style and comfort that’s easy to change at any time. Bedding sets of five or seven pieces often include these as well as pillow shams. The following are the different-shaped throws you can experiment with: throw, lumbar, Euro, and bolster.
If you’re worried about investing in throw pillows because you like to change up your bedding with the seasons, there’s an easy solution. Shams are decorative covers for throw pillows. You can change them out like you would a pillowcase. Most shams have overlapping flaps in the back that make the throw easy to remove.